EVERETT — The email that came into The Daily Herald newstips mailbox was finger-licking odd.
“I was recently named a Kentucky Colonel by the Honorable Andy Beshear, Governor of Kentucky,” it read. “I’m a resident of Everett.”
What’s up with that?
Everett is seven states, 2,400 miles and a 36-hour drive away from the capital of Kentucky (which is Frankfort, by the way, not Louisville).
The sender, Jeffrey Raven Leonard, is an Everett Home Depot worker who now joins the ranks of thousands of other honorary Colonels, including Kentucky restaurateur Harland Sanders, who used his title to sell fried chicken.
The award commissioned by the governor grants the use of “the Honorable” before his name and bragging rights, at least in Kentucky, where people know that this colonel title is not about 11 herbs and spices.
“Nobody here knows what this is,” Leonard said. “People say, ‘Oh, KFC.’ I told my boss and he was like, ‘What?’ My wife urged me to contact the local paper saying there was a Kentucky Colonel in the area.”
Kentucky Colonel, the highest title of honor bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is given to civilians for “noteworthy accomplishments, contributions to civil society, remarkable deeds, or outstanding service to the community, state, or a nation,” according to the website.
Most recipients are everyday people making a difference in their worlds.
Leonard, 52, who served 8 years in the Navy, was nominated by a friend for his initiative to get the word out about Home Depot programs for veterans. He is a customer experience manager at the store on Highway 99, making sure shoppers are happy.
“He reached out to military bases to tell them about the work he does at Home Depot and how he believed it to be a good fit for him after the military,” said Gabe Soltero, Home Depot program manager for military relations in Atlanta. “It makes our job easier. He is one of our vanguard of contacts in the Pacific Northwest to tell them about opportunities at Home Depot.”
A Kentucky connection is not required to get the honor. Race car drivers, singers, actors, authors, politicians, chefs, comedians and a couple Popes are among the 400,000-plus Kentucky Colonels commissioned in the last 200-plus years. Some famous names include Johnny Depp, Dolly Parton, Tiger Woods, John Lennon, Jennifer Lawrence, the Smothers Brothers and “Jeopardy” whiz Ken Jennings.
“Muhammad Ali is in there,” Leonard said. “I’m humbled by it.”
It’s easy to nominate someone (like maybe your favorite journalist). Just go online to the site, kycolonels.org.
Two Kentucky state employees in the governor’s office review the applications to either approve or deny nominations. Honorees receive official 12-by-16-inch certificates.
A nonprofit organization, The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, takes it from there, getting the list and sending welcoming letters to summon colonels to join together for philanthropic and social purposes.
“The title goes back to 1813, with the first governor of the Commonwealth,” director Colonel Sherry Crose said.
Most don’t take it as far as Harland Sanders.
“He is an actual Kentucky Colonel, that’s where he got the Colonel Sanders. I guess he parlayed that honorary title pretty well, didn’t he?” Crose said.
About 4,000 to 5,000 new Kentucky Colonels are commissioned annually.
“We have colonels from 50 states and 59 countries,” Crose said. “People like to meet other colonels. I think of it as a college alumni association. Every colonel I met certainly has some kind of giving heart.”
In Kentucky, there are homecoming weekends, bourbon tastings and Kentucky Derby parties. They raise money for charities, as do members of about 20 chapters east of the Mississippi, and in Hong Kong, Switzerland and Canada. Leonard and Ken Jennings might have to start a PNW chapter.
Crose said there are 468 Kentucky Colonels in the state of Washington.
“This week I signed welcome letters to members of the Pearl Jam group,” she said. “Pretty cool.”
Leonard hails from Southern Indiana, across the Ohio River from Kentucky. He’s a sixth generation Hoosier. So he’d heard of Kentucky Colonels and even knew one, his ex-father-in-law.
“Everybody knows about it in Indiana,” he said.
Before moving to Washington, he lived in Texas and worked for Home Depot, where he courted, as he put it, “a good-looking woman” named Amy. The couple transferred to the Everett store in 2021 and got married.
Leonard received the official Kentucky Colonel certificate earlier this month.
“It arrived in my mailbox and I was like, ‘Holy cow!’” he said. “My wife started chuckling. I go by Raven. She said, ‘Oh, look, Kentucky Fried Raven.’”
Is there a person, place or thing making you wonder “What’s Up With That?” Contact reporter Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; email@example.com; Twitter: @reporterbrown.
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